Journal of Contaminant Hydrology, 38(1-3), 323-347, 1999.

Field tests and model analyses of seepage into drift

J. S. Y. Wang, R. C. Trautz, P. J. Cook, S. Finsterle, A. L. James, and J. Birkholzer

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Earth Sciences Division
University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720


Abstract. This paper focuses on field test results and model analyses of the first set of five niche seepage tests conducted in the Exploratory Studies Facility at Yucca Mountain. The test results suggest that (1) a niche opening (short drift excavated for this study) acts as a capillary barrier; (2) a seepage threshold exists; and (3) the seepage is a fraction of the liquid released above the ceiling. Before seepage quantification, air injection and liquid release tests at two niche locations were conducted to characterize the fracture flow paths. Nearly two-order-of-magnitude changes in air permeability values were measured before and after niche excavation. The dyed liquid flow paths, together with a localized wet feature potentially associated with an ambient flow path, were mapped during dry excavation operations. After niche excavation, the seepage is quantified by the ratio of the water mass dripped into a niche to the mass released above the opening at selected borehole intervals. For the first set of five tests conducted at Niche 3650 site, the ratios range from 0% (no dripping for two tests) to 27.2%. Changes in flow path distributions and water accumulation near seepage threshold were observed on the niche ceiling. The seepage test results compare reasonably well with model results without parameter adjustments, using capillary barrier boundary condition in the niche and two-dimensional and three-dimensional conceptualizations to represent discrete fracture and fracture network for the flow paths. Model analyses of the niche tests indicate that the seepage is very sensitive to the niche boundary condition and is moderately sensitive to the heterogeneity of the fracture flow paths and to the strengths of matrix imbibition. Strong capillary strength and large storage capacity of the fracture flow paths limit the seepage. High permeability value also enhances diversion and reduces seepage for low liquid release rate.